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Cinema, Shoot Shutdowns Add to Perfect Storm for Europe’s Film Industry

Cine Ideal Madrid SpainCine Ideal
Karl Blackwell/Shutterstock

Just as things in Europe were getting really bad, they’ve gotten a lot worse.

Cinema shutdowns across Europe on Friday, in addition to travel bans and multiple film and TV shoot postponements, have left Europe’s film industry facing a perfect storm — and sent shockwaves across the whole of its movie industry.

They also saw some industry figures crying out for governments to implement measures similar to those put forward by France’s CNC state film agency on Thursday.

In the latest lockdown, every single cinema theater in Spain closed Friday after Spanish prime minister Pedro Sánchez declared a state of emergency.

“They should have done it sooner,” said producer-distributor-exhibitor Adolfo Blanco, at A Contracorriente Films, who owns the Verdi and Conde Duque cinema theaters in Spain.

“We just have to hope this won’t last long because costs continue, even with zero revenues. I fear some companies just won’t be able to weather this hit.”

In France, where the government has banned gatherings of more than 100 people, theaters will be allowed to remain open on the condition that there are a maximum of 100 people in each auditorium. However, some exhibitors are expected to close their venues because so many film releases have been postponed. They also fear very few moviegoers will turn up.

Meanwhile, Spain’s lockdown follows prior emergency measures in other states.

In the Nordics, theaters have closed in Norway and Denmark for two weeks but remain open at least for now in Sweden, Finland and Iceland. In Sweden, where there are 620 cases as of Friday, the government has banned gatherings of more than 100 people.

Finland, which has the least number of COVID-19 cases in the Nordics with 155, has also banned public gatherings of more than 500 people. “We are waiting for more information. For example, whether the 500-customer limit is for cinema complexes or per screening. Today, it’s business as usual,” Tero Koistinen, head of The Finnish Chamber of Films told Variety on March 12.

Poland announced Wednesday that it was closing all schools, universities, cinemas, theaters and museums for two weeks in an effort to contain the spread of the virus, which has led to 68 confirmed cases in the Eastern European nation so far.

The decision impacts 535 cinemas in Europe’s sixth-largest theatrical market, according to data provided by the Polish Film Institute. On Friday, the country’s largest theater chain, Helios, said the two-week shutdown would cost it upwards of 9 million zloty ($2.3 million) in revenues and 1.5 million zloty ($380,000) in operating costs across its network of 49 cinemas.

In Belgium, where there has been 559 cases of coronavirus, the country’s biggest multiplex chain Kinepolis has closed its theaters. Other theater chains and arthouse cinemas in Belgium are also set to close, according to the local TV channel RTBF, along with theaters, restaurants and nightclubs.

The cinema shutters are compounded by a litany of film and TV production closures.

Shoots suspended recently in Europe include “La Caza,” “El Internado,” “Paraíso” and “La que se avecina” (Spain), “The Crown” (U.K., but filming in Andorra), “Mission Impossible VII” (shooting in Venice), Ridley Scott’s “The Last Duel” (rolling in Ireland) and “The Nightingale,” starring Dakota and Elle Fanning, and “The Wheel of Time,” both shooting in Europe.

In addition to travel restrictions — on Friday night, the Polish government announced it would be closing its borders to all foreign travelers as of Sunday — the shuttering of cinemas will have a serious ripple effect across all sectors of the business.

“There is a potential bottleneck building. Initially, that’s limited to the theatrical window and the knock-on effect on licensing to pay TV,” says Guy Bisson, at Ampere Analysis.

He adds: “If the COVID-19 impact stretches to several months (as many reports are now suggesting) it could even work its way back up the value chain on-set to the production of content…something that would ultimately take several months to work its way out.”

Many exhibitors, however, are concerned about whether the sector can simply survive. “When asked what measures we need in Spain, I said we should follow the example of France’s CNC,” says Blanco.

On Thursday, France’s state film board announced, among other measures, that exhibitors and distributors will also be allowed to postpone the payment of social charges and will have access to loans and options to repay their existing credits.

Jamie Lang, Elsa Keslassy and Chris Vourlias contributed to this article.